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Social Cognitive Theories Essay


Social Cognitive views have been influenced by the humanist idea of uniqueness of human beings, that human beings are decision makers, planners and evaluators of behavior.

Key Concepts:

Social cognitive learning theorists emphasize the importance of both the influences of other people’s behavior and of a person’s own expectancies on learning, and also that observational learning, modeling can lead to the formation of patterns of personality. Thought and behavior are closely interlined with the situation the person is in

Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory:


Albert Bandura a modern theorist helped reshape the theoretical landscape of behaviorism. Bandura believes that three factors influence one another in determint of behavior: the environment, the behavior itself and personal or cognitive factors that the person brings into situation from earlier experience.

Key Terms:

1. Cognitive Processes and Reciprocal Determinism
2. Observational Learning
3. Self Regulation
4. Self Efficacy

Cognitive Processes and Reciprocal Determinism:
Bandura and like-minded theorists call their modified brand of behaviorism social learning theory or social cognitive theory.

Bandura (1982-1986) agrees with the fundamental thrust of behaviorism in that he believes that personality is largely shaped through learning. However, he contends that conditioning is not a mechanical process in which people are passive participants. Instead, he maintains that “people are self-organizing, proactive, self-reflecting and self-regulating, not just reactive organisms shaped and shepherded by external events”.

Bandura advocates a position called reciprocal determinism. According to this notion, the environment does determine behavior (as skinner would argue). However, behavior also determines the environment (in other words, people can act to alter their environment). Moreover, personal factors (cognitive structures such as beliefs and expectancies) determine and are determined by both behavior and the environment. Thus, reciprocal determinism is the idea that internal mental events, external environmental events, and over behavior all influence one another. According to Bandura, humans are neither masters of their own destiny nor hapless victims buffered about by the environment. Instead, the truth lies somewhere between these two extremes.





Observational Learning:
Bandura’s foremost theoretical contribution has been his description of observational learning. Observational learning occurs when an organism’s responding is influenced by the observation of others, who are called models. According to Bandura, both classical and operant conditioning can occur vicariously when one person observes another’s conditioning. For
example, watching your sister get burned by a bounced check upon selling her old stereo could strengthen your tendency to be suspicious of others. Although your sister would be the one actually experiencing the negative consequences, they might also influence you – through observational learning.

Bandura maintains that people’s characteristic patterns of behavior are shaped by the models that they are exposed to. He isn’t referring to the fashion models who dominate the mass media – although they do qualify. In observational learning, a model is a person whose behavior is observed by another. At one time or another, everyone serve as a model for others.

As social learning theory has been refined, it has become apparent that some models are more influential than others. Both children and adults tend to imitate people they like or respect more than people they don’t. People are also especially prone to imitate the behavior of people whom they consider attractive or powerful.

Bandura notes, human beings often demonstrate an impressive capacity for the self-regulation of their own behavior. While people may often respond to external factors such as positive reinforcement and punishment, they sometimes choose to ignore these and to operate in terms of internal standards and values. We set our own goals, and we often provide our own rewards when we reach them – a process Bandura describes as self-reinforcement.

Bandura discusses how a variety of personal factors (aspects of personality) govern behavior. In recent years, the factor he has emphasized most is self-efficacy. Self-efficacy refers to one’s belief about one’s ability to perform behaviors that should lead to expected outcomes. When self-efficacy is high, individuals feel confident that they can execute the responses necessary to earn reinforcers. When self-efficacy is low, individuals worry that the necessary responses may be beyond their abilities. Perceptions of self-efficacy are subjective and specific to certain kinds of tasks. For instance, you might feel extremely confident about your ability to handle difficult social situations but doubtful about your ability to handle academic challenges.

Perceptions of self-efficacy can influence which challenges people tackle and how well they perform. Studies have found that feelings of greater self-efficacy are associated with greater success in giving up smoking; greater adherence to an exercise regimen; more success in coping with pain; greater persistence and effort in academic pursuits; higher levels of academic performance; enhanced performance in athletic competition; greater receptiveness to technological training and higher work-related performance, among many other things.

What are the developmental antecedent of high self-efficacy? Schneewind asserts that parents can foster self-efficacy by providing a stimulating environment and by being responsive to their children’s behavior. An emphasis on warm support for children, early independence training, and non-punitive disciplinary techniques is also helpful. In contrast, parents who are authoritarian, intrusive, overprotective, or neglectful are likely to undermine self-efficacy in their offspring.

Julian Rotter’s Social Learning Theory:

Rotter suggested that the likelihood of a given behavior occurring in a specific situation depends on the individuals expectancies concerning the outcomes the behavior will produce and the reinforcement value they attach to such outcomes – the degree to which the prefer one reinforcement to another.

Key Terms:

1. Expectancies

2. Locus of Control

Rotter developed his Social Learning Theory to incorporate cognitive factors. Rotter recognized that most the reinforcers we strive to obtain one social (e.g. Hugs, attention and that most learning occurs in social situation)

The concept of expectancy is one of the most important elements of Rotter’s theory. When you take an exam apply for a job or ask for a date, you have some notion of the likelihood of success or failure. What you expect to happen has a powerful influence on your behavior, thought, feelings and in turn personality.

Locus of Control:
Locus of control involves the extent to which individuals believe that they or that external factors control their lives. Rotter focused on whether people place their locus of control inside themselves (internal) or in their environments (external). Locus of control influences how people view the world and how they identify the causes of success or failure in their lives. In an important way, people’s locus of control reflects their personality – their view of, and reactions to, the world.

People with an external locus of control believe that they have little control over their lives. A college student may attribute his or her poor grade to a lousy teacher, feeling there was nothing he or she could have done to get an A. In contrast, individuals who develop an internal locus of control feel that they can master any course they take because they believe that through hard work they can do well in any subject. People develop expectations based on their beliefs about the sources of reinforcement in their environments. These expectations lead to specific behaviors described as personality. Reinforcement of these behaviors in turn strengthens expectancy and leads to increased belief in internal or external control.

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